Monday, 25 May 2015

30 minute Vegan Pho recipe

Pho is basically about the beef consommé so it's hard to understand what all the fuss is about this soup if you don't eat meat. Every single time I've had it at a Vietnamese restaurant, it tastes like dishwater, a watery bland broth with some noodles and a few veggies floating in it. So I set out to create a truly tasty vegan version.
Pho is one of those dishes that looks time consuming to make. Maybe it is if you are boiling up beef stock but the vegan version is a cinch to make, a half hour jobbie max.
To replace the umami richness of a meat stock, I used Chinese mushrooms, shitake to you, and star anise.
Another trick to enriching the flavour is to caramelise some of the stock vegetables, I grilled the onions and ginger on my Aga hob, but with an ordinary gas stove you could dry roast them on top or roast them quickly under the grill to get a similar effect.

Vegan mushroom and star anise pho recipe

Serves 4-6

40g of dried shitake mushrooms
2 litres of boiling water
1 tbsp veg stock (Marigold)
1 brown or red onion, halved and charred
1 thumb of fresh ginger, charred
1 or 2 carrots, finely sliced
4 or 5 star anise
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 stick cinnamon or cassia bark
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 or 2 black cardamom (the big black slightly medical smelling ones)
1 pinch of dried orange peel
A few black peppercorns
200g dried rice noodles, soaked in hot salty water for ten minutes
Sea salt
1 or 2 heads of bok choi, each head quartered lengthways
5 or 6 spring onions, thinly sliced
1 yellow pepper, deseeded, thinly sliced
5 or 6 radishes or a 10cm segment of daikon, thinly sliced lengthways
200g soft tofu, cut into squares
2 tbsps soy sauce
2-3 tbsps Hoisin sauce
a handful of fresh coriander
a handful of mint
a handful of Holy Basil (if you can get it)
1 or 2 birds eye chillis, thinly sliced
1 or 2 limes, quartered

First select a large pan in which to make your soup. Put in the shitake mushrooms and the boiling water. Then while you are charring the onion and ginger on the flame or under the grill, add the carrots and the rest of the spices (star anise, coriander, cinnamon, fennel seeds, cardamom, orange peel, black peppercorns) to the hot water then add the charred onion and ginger.
In the meantime soak the noodles in boiling water with a teaspoon of sea salt for about ten minutes.
Choose the vegetables you want in your pho, prepare them.
After 20-25 minutes strain the stock, removing all the vegetables and spices, and add your prepared vegetables (bok choi, spring onions, pepper, radishes, tofu).  Add some soy sauce and some Hoisin sauce. Add the noodles. Continue to simmer then add the fresh coriander and other herbs, a little fresh bird's eye chilli and squeeze over the lime juice.
You could add more Hoisin sauce and sweet chilli sauce/Linghams sauce on top.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Swedish Midsummer supper club

The midsummer feast is a tradition in Sweden, so I'm hooking up with Stockholm supper club host and chef Linn Soderstrom to put on a celebratory event in London at The Underground Restaurant. At midsummer, one eats herrings, cooks over a fire and eats strawberry cake. Doesn't that sound wonderful? This will take place in the garden, weather depending.

Home made aquavit

Pickled herring or Matjes herring (with sandal wood) with potatoes, chives, red onions and sour cream (gräddfil)

Egg halves with creamy yolks and topped with mayo and kalix roe

'Skagen röra' (shrimp, mayo, dill and a little horseradish) on toasted rye bread

Home-cured Gravad lax and mustard dill sauce

Potato and asparagus salad with fennel flowers and pollen

Home made butter
Crisp bread

Whipped cream wild strawberry cake

20th June, Kilburn, London. Tickets are £40 BYO Buy your tickets at this link here. Starts at 7.30pm till late.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Ten minute egg and cress spaghetti recipe

This recipe took mere minutes to make. In fact as long as the packet of spaghetti takes to cook. (I always recommend buying spaghetti with a lengthy cooking time, around 11 minutes.) It's a luxurious mid-week supper option.

Egg and Cress Spaghetti recipe

Serves 4-6

500g pack of good quality dried spaghetti (De Cecco for instance)
Sea salt
300ml tub of full fat creme fraiche
80g jar of red lumpfish roe or salmon roe
1 punnet of cress, snipped (Americans! a punnet is a small plastic tray)
100g of finely grated Vasterbottensost Swedish cheese (optional, makes this dish even richer)
Freshly ground pepper (white or black)

Prepare a large saucepan of boiling salty water over a high heat. Put the spaghetti in and cook for a minute less than the specified cooking time. Pasta continues to cook during the draining process.
As soon as the pasta is cooked, drain it, put in back in the still warm pan and tip in the full fat creme fraiche, mixing it (do this quickly while the pasta is very hot). Then add the roe, tossing the pasta in the sauce. Add the cheese if you desire.
Serve into bowls and sprinkle with the cress and the pepper.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Boiled orange upside down cake recipe (gluten-free)

I heard about this cake, a "boiled orange" cake from Diana Henry on Saturday Kitchen a couple of weeks ago. As I knew I had a marmalade 'secret tea' planned, this intrigued me. The bottom is made from boiled oranges and almonds. I added the thinly sliced caramelised oranges at the base and flipped it over. It made a moist, original cake.

Boiled orange upside down cake recipe (gluten-free)

For a 26cm cake tin

For the cake:
2 oranges, whole
3 eggs
200g caster sugar
300g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder

For the topping:
2 oranges, thinly sliced
1 vanilla bean, scraped out or 1 tsp vanilla paste
200g caster sugar
100ml water
Big swig of triple sec liqueur or orange cointreau

Put the two oranges, whole, into a medium saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and then simmer for one hour. Then take off the heat, remove the oranges and put them in a powerful blender such as a Vitamix or a food processor and blend.

For the topping: caramelise the orange slices by putting them in a wide saucepan with the sugar and water. Simmer on a medium heat for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the liqueur if desired and leave to one side.

Make the cake by preheating the oven to 170ºc. Mix the eggs, sugar, almonds and baking powder together then add the orange pulp. Grease and flour a cake tin.
Add the orange slices to the bottom of the cake tin, covering the bottom, reserving the syrup. Then pour the cake batter on top.
Bake for 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and let it cool enough to handle. Using a palette knife, run it around the sides of the cake tin. Take a flat plate larger than the cake tin, place it on top of the cake tin and quickly flip it over. The orange slices will be on top. Reduce the remaining syrup if it is very liquid, by bringing it to the boil in a small saucepan. Then pour it over the orange slices, it will absorb into the cake.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Fig and orange goat's cheese cake recipe and menu for this Saturday's marmalade tea

This Saturday I'm hosting a marmalade and citrus themed 'secret' tea party. There are still some tickets left so if you are an afternoon tea fan, do come!
Just like Paddington Bear, I'm a marmalade lover. Award-winning marmalade maker Viv Lloyd has sent me some marmalade for the occasion.

Teapot cocktail:
Bucks fizz with blood orange juice

Onion marmalade
Smoked salmon, cream cheese and kumquat zest

Home-made tea cakes laced with orange flower water

Scones with citrus jams, clotted cream

Orange Upside Down cake

Orange truffles

Chocolate coated candied orange

Fig and Orange goat's cheese cake.

Tea: orange pekoe

Tickets are only £35, you can book here. It takes place at my house. 

Fig and Orange goat's cheese cake

Fig and Orange goat's Cheese cake recipe:

This recipe is an adaptation from a recipe in MsMarmitelover's Secret Tea Party book. I've always loved baked cheesecakes. Probably the best I've ever had is in Paris, in the Jewish quarter,  Rue des Rosiers, at a place more famous for its fantastic falafel, L'as du fallafel. But do try the cheesecake there, a fudgy, stick to the palette of your mouth, dense creamy delight. Using goat's cheese enhances the acidity of a cheese cake. It's not very sweet so I also added figs, orange zest and drizzled orange honey over the top. After I made it I thought a ginger biscuit base would work very well so next time I'll do that.

You'll need a springform pan of about 23 cms diameter.

200g ginger, Nice or digestive biscuits, crushed
50g salted butter, melted.

3 eggs, separated
750g soft tangy goat's cheese
250g mascarpone or cream cheese
200g caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla paste
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
20g cornflour

5 figs, split into quarters, but not cut down to the bottom

50ml of honey, liquid not set
Juice of half the orange

Grease the cake tin with butter

For the  base, whizz the biscuits in a food processor until they ressemble fine breadcrumbs. Add the melted butter and mix well.
Spread the biscuit mix all over the bottom of the cake tin, press well into the corners.
Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 170C.
For the filling mix the goat's cheese, the mascarpone, the sugar, the vanilla, the orange zest, the cornflour and the egg yolks together at a slow speed in a food mixer. Then in a separate  bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff. Gently fold the egg whites into the goat's cheese mixture.
Remove the base from the fridge and tip the goat's cheese mixture into the cake tin.
Bake in the bottom half of the oven for 50 minutes, covering the top with foil and removing the tin foil for the last 20 minutes. Leave to cool to room temperature then place it in the fridge to chill.
Slice up the figs and pile on top.
Mix the orange juice and the honey and drizzle over the figs and cake.
If the honey is set, warm for 30 seconds in the microwave.
This is best made the day before eating.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Election day slow roasted head of cauliflower in tomato chipotle sauce (vegan, gluten-free)

 slow roasted head of cauliflower in tomato chipotle sauce (vegan, gluten-free)
It's election day here in the UK. My constituency, Hampstead and Kilburn, has possibly the tightest race in the UK. Glenda Jackson won by a mere 42 votes in the 2010 election. It's an interesting borough comprising of great wealth, the large houses teetering on the hills of Hampstead and grimy poverty lining the old Roman road, the A5 through Kilburn. London has rich and poor living cheek by jowl: a two million pound house (for that is the price of a quite modest home here) next to a council flat. 

Since 2010, things have changed dramatically in British politics. We had a coalition government for the first time in years, Nigel Farage's anti-European UK Independence Party started to gain traction and last year the Scottish National Party revitalised interest in politics during the Scottish independence referendum. It's an exciting time in politics. Nick Clegg of the Lib Dems was outmanoeuvred by Cameron and Osborne (they may be slimy but they know how to politic) when it came to changing our system from First Past The Post, which favoured only the two main parties, to proportional representation. Clegg, having sold students out by raising tuition fees, a policy that directly affected my daughter, lost that referendum, but even under the old system, party loyalties have fractured nonetheless. 
I went to a hustings, a meeting where all the candidates speak, in my borough. The only candidates that turned up were Tulip Siddiq for Labour; Rebecca Johnson for the Greens and Maajid Nawaz for the Lib Dems. I was impressed with all three of those candidates: Tulip, unlike her predecessor Glenda Jackson (who was a great actress but an absolutely terrible constituency MP), lives locally and has served on the local council. She's also small and female. This sways my vote: small bossy women for the win!
Rebecca was exactly how you think a Green candidate would look: even though it was a chilly night she wore open-toed sandals and wore head to toe green velvet. She's a feminist peace activist who was at Greenham. I visited Greenham Common, one of the most inspiring direct actions by women. We need more of this and perhaps the new Women's Equality Party will recalibrate politics to include us. 
Maajid Nawaz was the smoothest, almost James Bond-like, a sharp grey suit, slicked back hair and tons of charisma. He has an interesting back story: from a Muslim background, he was attracted by extremist Islam and ended up jailed in Egypt for several years. On his release he decided to depart from the path of extremism. He differentiates between Islamism, a political creed spreading 7th century mores (but a product of 21st century events) and Islam, the faith. Maajid Nawaz began the Quilliam foundation, an anti-extremist organisation. 

I've been disappointed how the issues around food are never debated. Labour might talk about food banks a bit, but that's it. At the hustings, the meeting was divided into different policy subjects: transport, housing, education, health and food. No one was interested in the food meeting and those of us sitting waiting for that discussion, had to join another debate. Food touches upon all of these subjects: access and transport to good fresh food, education about food as in how to cook, health problems triggered by food. Nor has the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) been discussed. This is a trade agreement between Europe and the US: it is feared that the stricter European rules on GM, pesticides, growth hormones in food will be swept away by pressure from US 'Big Food' farmers.

The Conservative and UKIP candidates didn't turn up to the hustings so there was no opportunity to debate with them.  Others include the U(niversal) party candidate Robin Ellison who aims to reform the pension system but has some quite interesting policies, for instance it seeks peaceful recovery of our former French possessions under Henry II, which sounds reasonable enough. 
A Labour activist canvassed our street last week and knocked on my door. (I've had several of these visits, mostly due to the fact that my daughter is a Labour party member. She's studying politics at York university and hopes to work for the Labour party.) 
In the midst of our discussion about whether I should vote Labour, she said:
 "Well at least our candidate is alive." 
 " What do you mean? Is there someone standing who is dead?" 
 She replied mysteriously : "I can't say any more".
I googled it. One candidate 'The Eurovisionary Carroll' Ronnie Carroll died last month, too late to be taken off the ballot paper. I guess that's why he wasn't at the hustings either.
 slow roasted head of cauliflower in tomato chipotle sauce (vegan, gluten-free)
Here is an easy election day recipe:

Slow roasted head of cauliflower in tomato chipotle sauce

Serves 2 or 3 

100ml olive oil
1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes or a half kilo of fresh tomatoes, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp of fresh or dried oregano
3 tbsps of red wine, sherry or balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp of chipotle paste or chipotles en adobo
1 large cauliflower, leaves removed, stalk trimmed
Sea salt
1 clove of garlic, cut in half

Choose a baking dish that is just slightly larger in width than the cauliflower, I used an enamel plate which is fine to put in the oven. Preheat the oven to 180cº
In a medium saucepan on a medium heat, add a little olive oil. When it's warm, add the tomatoes, the garlic, the oregano, the vinegar, the chipotle paste and simmer on a low to medium heat for ten minutes. Taste and season with salt to taste.
Drizzle the rest of the olive oil over the cauliflower, rubbing it in. Then add the sea salt, rubbing it into the cauliflower head also. I then took the cut half of garlic and rubbed it into the cabbage all over.
Place the head of cauliflower in your chosen baking dish and pour the tomato/chipotle sauce over the cauliflower. Cover the dish with tin foil and bake for 45 minutes or until a metal skewer enters the heart of the cauliflower easily. Remove the foil for the last ten minutes so the the cauliflower can brown a little on top. 
Serve hot. If you have some left over, you can use the florets and sauce over pasta or rice.

Note: I edited this post which called a cauliflower, a cabbage. I had "Brain fade" as Green Party leader Natalie Bennett calls it.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Pineapple, cashew, coconut curry (vegan/gluten-free) recipe

Pineapple, cashew, coconut curry (vegan/gluten-free) recipe

Pineapple, cashew, coconut curry (vegan/gluten-free) recipe
I really want to visit Sri Lanka. That's it, that's pretty much all I've got to say. I'm just putting it out there as a message to the universe. (I once did a message to the universe whilst idling through an Argos catalogue. Myself and a friend then did a collage of pictures from the catalogue: all the things we wanted. My friend put himself with two blonde girls. Within the month he had two blonde girlfriends! No kidding. I also got everything I wanted, although they were more mundane, things like a posh electric kettle and a lawn mower. Magic! )
Here is a Sri Lankan inspired recipe. It's awesome and after prepping the vegetables, it takes no time to cook.

Pineapple, cashew, coconut curry recipe

Serves 6

3-4 tbsps coconut oil/vegetable oil
1 tsp dark brown mustard seeds
5-6 banana shallots, sliced thinly
a thumb of ginger, peeled and diced
1 stick lemon grass, bashed until bruised
1 cinnamon stick
handful of fresh curry leaves
1 whole pineapple, peeled, sliced, cored, cut into segments
1 can (400ml) of coconut milk 
1 tsp turmeric, ground or if fresh, 1 root sliced thinly
1 can (160ml) of coconut cream
1 tsp of sea salt
A big handful (100g) of cashew nuts
1 fresh coconut, sliced into fine strips. (peeled or unpeeled)
1 tsp fennel seeds, ground
Small bunch of fresh coriander leaves, picked
1 or 2 red birds eye chillis, thinly sliced
1 lime, quartered

Shopping and Prep:

Preparing a fresh pineapple seems intimidating but is quite easy. First slice a little from the bottom to create a flat base. Place it on a chopping board and with a sharp knife, slicing downwards, shave off the skin, going around the pineapple. Then remove the top. Then, again with your sharp knife, cut the pineapple into 2cm thick slices crossway until the end. Stick 2 or 3 rounds of pineapple on top of each other and using an apple corer, remove the stringy tough centre. Do this until all the round of pineapple are cored. Then cut each slice into 6, like a cake. Set aside.
When buying a fresh coconut, rattle it, to make sure there is milk inside. This means it is still fresh. It's so disappointing to buy a coconut, go through all the effort of cracking it open, to find it's off or worse, mouldy.
To open a coconut, first pierce a couple of the eyes with a corkscrew then drain the milk into a glass. I either drink the milk or sling it into the curry. 
Then take a large heavy knife and using the back of the knife, while cradling the coconut in your hand, tap all around the middle 'equator' of the coconut. Keep going, it will crack eventually, a clean break all around. Very satisfying. 
Then you can prise out the coconut and cut it into thin slices. I don't bother peeling off the brown for this recipe but you can if you like. 
When buying coconut milk and coconut cream, buy good brands that have a high proportion of coconut and no (or few) thickeners and stabilisers. 
Prep the rest of the ingredients (shallots/ginger/lemon grass/chilli/coriander)


Get out a heavy bottomed deep skillet or frying pan and, on a medium heat, heat up the coconut oil then add the mustard seeds, frying briefly until they start to pop. Lower the heat to medium/low then add the shallots and cook until soft, then the ginger, the lemon grass, the cinnamon stick, the curry leaves. Fry for a few minutes. Add the pineapple slices, stir for a minute or two then add the coconut milk. 
Then add the turmeric and the coconut cream. Add the salt, stir and cook for five minutes. Then add the cashews, coconut, fennel seeds. Salt to taste. Garnish with fresh coriander and thinly sliced red chillis and segments of lime.
Serve with rice. 
Pineapple, cashew, coconut curry (vegan/gluten-free) recipe

Friday, 1 May 2015

Gluten-free gnocchi recipe and the delicate matter of charging friends and family to come to dinner

Gluten free gnocchi in tomato/basil broth

gluten free gnocchi
For this Sundays Secret Garden supper club meal, I had an Irish friend coming who is coeliac. 

The attitude of coeliacs to all the fashionably 'gluten-free' varies: on the one hand they are grateful that there are now so many gluten-free products in the supermarkets, while on the other, they are tired of being lumped in the same category as weight-conscious fusspots who feel a little bit bloated when they eat pasta or bread.

 The latter types have lead to compassion fatigue amongst dinner party hosts, chefs and front of house staff. Real coeliacs are very ill when they eat gluten, eventually it causes long term damage to the body. 

Until around 15 years ago, coeliac disease wasn't easy to diagnose, but now there are blood tests. Populations such as the Irish have a high proportion of coeliacs, possibly due to natural selection during the decades when they ate only potatoes, a situation in which coeliacs would thrive. My friends siblings include coeliacs, the rate is as high as 1 in 10 in Ireland. 

It's a disease that affects women more than men. Another clue to wheat being the culprit in causing the disease was during famine, for when bread was scarce, miraculously coeliacs became healthier.

I was interested to read that the Catholic church are 'cautious' about accepting coeliacs for training as priests, for eating the 'host' is a central duty of priesthood and so far, petitions to have a wheat-free wafer have been denied by the Vatican.

Potato based gnocchi is potentially a gluten-free pasta that coeliacs can eat, but usually it contains wheat flour. Can I make an entirely wheat free version I pondered? I had some potato flour in the cupboard, I mixed it with my usual gnocchi recipe (adapted from Deb Perelman's dish 'gnocchi in tomato broth') and yes! Success! A perfectly serviceable light-weight entirely potato and gluten-free gnocchi.

Only problem friend didn't turn up. When I called her, half an hour after everyone else had arrived, to ask where she was, she didn't even remember being invited. 

Which just goes to show, and I give this advice to all supper club hosts, never give free places to friends and family. If you don't pay for something, it has no value. It's an interesting attitude, counter-intuitive perhaps, but in my experience, consistently true. 

A supper club is a small business and you have to take a business-like attitude towards it. It's hard to charge friends and family but you must steel yourself and do it.

Gluten-free gnocchi recipe in tomato and basil broth

Serves 4-6


1 kilo large floury potatoes, baked in their skins
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp sea salt
100g potato flour/farina which you can get at Waitrose, Holland & Barrett, or online


75ml olive oil
1 brown onion, diced
1 carrot, finely sliced
1 stick of celery, finely sliced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 glass white or rose wine
1 kilo fresh tomatoes, diced
500ml vegetable stock
Handful of torn fresh basil leaves (you could also add a spoonful of pesto)
Salt and pepper to taste

Bake the potatoes in a hot oven 200C, pricking the skins so that they don't explode, for about 45 minutes to an hour. Remove and let them cool.
Make the gnocci by scooping out the flesh and pressing it through a potato ricer or grating them.
Stir in the egg and salt and add 50g of the potato flour. Then slowly add the rest of the flour. If it seems that it needs less or more flour, add less or more but ideally you want just enough flour to make the gnocchi easy to roll and handle but not to make too stodgy and solid.
Roll the mixture out into a thin sausage of 2 cm/3/4 inch diameter). Using a sharp knife, cut the rope into 2cm/3/4 inch lengths. Press down with a fork on each little gnocchi.
Lay them out on a sheet of parchment paper or a non-stick silpat.
Actually potato flour gnocchi are easier to handle than the usual gnocchi.

Using a medium sized saucepan on a low to medium heat:heat the oil then add the onion and fry until soft.
Add the carrot and celery, the garlic cloves. Fry for a few minutes then add the wine.
Then add the tomatoes and vegetable stock. Simmer for 15 minutes to half an hour.
Add the fresh basil and the gnocchi. The gnocchi are cooked when they float.
Season to taste.